Jane Yolen, Author
Melanie Cataldo, Illustrator
Candlewick Press, Fiction, July 16, 2015
Suitable for Ages: 5-9
Themes: Whales, Nature, Death, Anger, Grief
Opening: “We were walking home from school, hurrying along the top of the dunes because Ma always hates when we’re late for supper.”
Synopsis: While walking home from school along the dunes in Maine, Sally and her brothers spot an enormous whale stranded on the beach. The siblings take off their sweaters, dip them into the cold briny water and rush back to wet down the whale. Realizing they need more help, Josh runs for help and returns with many people carrying buckets. The Coast Guard arrives and begins to help. But the tide is going out quickly and the whale is just too big. Time is running out.
Why I like this book:
- Jane Yolen has written a touching story that will tug at your heart. The story is set in 1971 and it reminds me of lengthier picture books written at that time. Yolen carefully chooses her language. Her text is rich, lyrical and carries you like a poem. Melanie Cataldo’s uses muted tones in her oil and pencil illustrations. They contribute to the emotion and vulnerability of the story.
- Because it is 1971, the three siblings don’t have modern cell phones to call for help. This adds to the tension because so much time is lost. Sally and her brothers have to rely upon their own resources to help the whale. Josh has to run a mile to find an emergency telephone. It takes a while before the town people and Coast Guard arrive with buckets to wet down the whale. They all try to push the whale back into the ebbing sea. There are no fire hoses or lifts. This is a nice contrast/comparison story for readers.
- The story is narrated by Sally, who is brave and strong. While Josh is sad about the situation, Sally is mad at everything. She’s mad at the ocean for deserting the whale. She’s mad that they didn’t have a boat and long ropes to pull it into the sea. Sally is also compassionate and looks deeply into the whales eye and sees a tear. She continues wetting down the whale “one sweater, two sweaters at a time.” She tells the whale it is “beautiful and strong, how much she would miss it, whatever happened next.”
- The ending is realistic. (Spoiler alert) Despite their efforts to rescue the whale, Sally and her brothers learn that not all living creatures can be saved. This is an important truth for children.
Resources: Yolen has an Author’s Note at the end. She talks about why she chose the setting and time frame. She also gives a lot information about how many whales are found on beaches annually and the many reasons for why they beach. There are many good discussion points for parents/teachers and children in this story. Today is Endangered Species Day. Make sure you check out the Endangered Species Coalition website.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.